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The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress

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The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress

Published 1944
Topics WWII, war, documentary, b17

This film is a war documentary produced by one of the "Hollywood Colonels," William Wyler, who joined the Air Force Film unit and recorded the sights and sounds of the last mission of a B-17 bomber known as the Memphis Belle, named after the girlfriend of the pilot.
A narrator told the story of the 10 crewmen as examples of simple average American boys doing a tough job.
The men and plane were filmed during the bombing raid on the submarine plens in Wilhelmshafen, Germany, "just one mission of just one plane and one crew in one squadron in one group of one wing of one Air Force out of fifteen United States Army Air Forces."
It used handheld 16mm and 35mm cameras inside the plane to give the perspective of the crew.
Wyler in fact combined footage from several missions to represent this last 25th mission of the plane, a mission that was actually a milk run with no casualties and no difficult landing.
He also used film shot by the 8th AAF Combat Camera Unit.
Wyler wanted to film a flak burst but never was able to get one:
"I could never get one explosion because how the hell do you know where one's going to explode? Once the cloud is there it's too late. All that flak so close to us, and I could never get the explosion."
From October 1943 to March 1944, Wyler edited in the U.S. the 20,000 feet of film he shot in Europe, producing a 42-minute color film that was considered beautiful and dramatic.

Run time 42
Producer First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps
Production Company Paramount Pictures
Sponsor -
Audio/Visual sound, color
Contact Information


Reviewer: bolid - - November 12, 2010
Subject: Documentary with propagandistic features
This is really a good "documentary" even though it hast some aspects of propaganda included. But that was the normal way to handle that topic during the war time. The Office of War Information was responsible to let the film makers include aspects and topics in their movies which "help to win the war" during 2nd world war.

To answer the questions of the previous posters:
There are really not many such "documentaries" which include no staged or reshot footing. For example, the "Why We Fight" series from Frank Capra includes footage from german, italien and japanese newsreels and even footing taken from feature films. Others "documentaries" of a similar kind like "Memphis Belle" are "The Battle of Midway" from John Ford, "The Battle of San Piedro" from John Houston or "Desert Victory" from David MacDonald. I can give to advice to have a look at these films also.

The in-flight audio in "The Memphis Belle" was created and implemented in the film afterwards. You can see this at the monotonous sound of the engines which always sounds the same regardless of the perspectives the camera shows. The intercom conversation of the crew was also recreated and included afterwards, because the engines of the B-17 would have been far too loud to use original conversation.

So far, greetings from Germany
Reviewer: movieman - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - November 26, 2005
Subject: Very good
One of the best WWII 'documentary' movies I've seen so far. I'm assuming it was made as a propaganda movie, but if it was then it sure shows a lot of the 'dark side' of war with the dead and injured aircrew and the lost planes. One of the most memorable aspects is the business-like manner in which the crews treat enemy attacks and the loss of other aircraft: assuming the in-flight audio is real and not reconstructed, there's none of the kind of gung-ho excitement you'd get in the average war movie, just a few men doing a rather dangerous job.
Reviewer: FrankinHolland - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - November 6, 2005
Subject: The Memphis Belle
Haunting. Really a must see. I wish there were more like this.
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